When Ford Stood on Top of the Diesel Mountain
Eavesdrop on any discussion of light truck diesels and sooner or later, someone will declare that Ford’s 7.3L “Powersmoke” diesel is still the best ever. During its 10-year run ending in 2004, there was little on the market that could match its power.
Found in Ford’s three-quarter-ton and heavier trucks, many 7.3 Powerstroke turbo trucks are still running strong.
The Power Stroke family traces its lineage back to the early 1980s when Ford needed a pickup truck engine to counter GM’s 6.2L Detroit diesel. What it found was the 6.9L IDI, a naturally aspirated indirect fuel injection diesel made by International Harvester, now Navistar.
As soon as it hit the market, the engine proved quite popular among pickup buyers for its 179hp output and 315-340lb-ft torque; displacement was increased to 7.3L in 1988, although it remained naturally aspirated. A turbocharger was added to the engine in 1993 and with 190hp and 388lb-ft of torque, the 7.3L IDI diesel was just one step from the top of the mountain.
The next year, Ford replaced the mechanical indirect fuel injection system with an electronically controlled direct fuel injection setup that gave a big boost to output without risking the 7.3L IDI’s proven reliability. Dubbed the Power Stroke, it could produce 215-275hp and 425-525lb-ft of torque depending on the year and drivetrain.
For 10 years, the 7.3L Power Stroke stood atop the mountain and remains to this day one of the greatest light truck diesel engines ever produced. Made popular in Ford’s F-250 Series and up, the engine was also found in E-series full-size vans, the Class 2 SUV Excursion and LCF cabover commercial truck.
With stricter emissions on the horizon and California’s engine noise cap already in place, Ford and Navistar went their separate ways when it was time to replace the 7.3L Power Stroke. Starting in 2004, Ford’s new 6.0L diesel carried the Power Stroke name and looked good, on paper at least but it never lived up to its predecessor.